Read an Excerpt
SETH TURNER REACHED FOR HIS blanket with a hand that wasn't there. He'd been half-asleep, but now he was awake and filled with a red heat that burned behind his eyes, in his gut. Every day he had to relearn the raw truth: his left hand was gone, ripped apart by a bullet, tossed aside by the doctor upstairs. Without his consent.
He hated her for it. Hated her touching him even to give him an exam. Hated her voice when she tried to convince him she'd done the right thing—saved his life. Did it ever occur to her that he didn't want this life?
He pulled the blanket up with his right hand and settled back on the pillow. It was a different kind of torture, knowing she was sleeping upstairs. That he would have to live here, with her, for months yet to come while he learned to use the prosthesis.
It had already been three months since she'd performed the surgery. It had taken this long for the wound to heal, for his skin to form a useless lump three inches up from what used to be his wrist. He'd been in bar fights, he'd been in wars, he'd even survived Delta Force training, but nothing had been harder.
He understood now why men, good men, turned to drugs and alcohol after they'd been mutilated. The pain was the least of it. The part he couldn't stand, that made him want to die, was the loss of everything that was important about him. Which was the part Dr. Harper Douglas didn't get.
To make things worse, to add the goddamned cherry on top, there were his dreams. They came every night now. At first he'd shaken them off, but there was no use pretending they were going to stop. He woke in the middle of the night sweating and hard, his erection throbbing as images of her, of goddamn Harper, made him ache until, with his one good hand, he took care of business. Even that didn't end his torment. Once he'd come, thoughts of her haunted him long into the pale mornings. With luck he'd fall asleep again, but mostly his luck had run out. By the time she came downstairs he hated her again. He tried to be civil, but it didn't come easy.
Harper, with her no-nonsense attitude and her sharp blue eyes, looked at him as if he were a piece of meat, a patient, not a man. Her in her white robe, tight at the waist and crossing at her breasts. She wore no bra when she came from her bedroom, and though her breasts weren't large, they moved when she did, swaying just enough to sear a picture in his head.
His hand moved down to his erection, and he thought again that he should feel grateful that he'd lost his left hand. He wrote with his right, threw with his right, beat off with it. But his left, that was his rudder, his stabilizer. Without it, how would he use the sniper rifle? Reload? How could he defend himself, let alone kill a man? Shit, he couldn't even tie his shoes.
He heated again as he remembered finding the slip-on loafers that had appeared by his bed. Harper had put his boots in a cupboard and replaced them with grand-dad shoes, something a crip like him could handle.
Shifting again in the hospital bed, he wished for the hundredth time that the bullet had hit him right between the eyes. Not that he'd want to abandon Nate and the others, but Jesus. What was he supposed to do now?
He hadn't even realized that he'd only ever seen himself as a warrior. Not even that—as a weapon. He'd been good for exactly that and nothing else. And now he was broken, a piece of junk to be thrown in the scrap pile.
He closed his eyes and prayed for sleep. What he got instead was a wave of need and the cursed images of Harper torturing his soul.
THE WALLS OF THE house were mostly gone, but the bathroom was still private. Four walls, a ceiling and a door complete with lock. Harper stared at the sink, at the faucet that dripped brown rust instead of water, and all she could think was that she couldn't treat the child with her hands so filthy. The chance of infection was too great. But the water...the water had stopped. The electricity was off. Everything in the tiny village in the north of Serbia was in shambles.
There was no hospital, no other doctors, and she only had the small bag, barely more than a first-aid kit.
The child...he was four, maybe five. He spoke no English, and her Serbian was terrible, so she couldn't ask him where his mother or father was. Maybe they were out there, with the others in the square. But no. She couldn't think about that right now. She couldn't save them, but the child, the boy... Perhaps...
She looked up from the useless sink to see her own image in the cracked mirror. What was she doing here? She could have taken that job at the USC medical center. She could have gone to Africa or Asia, worked with one of the relief agencies or the Red Cross. But she'd gone to the UN. She'd volunteered to go to Kosovo because the war was over, at least officially. She'd never bargained for this. She closed her eyes and breathed as deeply as she could, trying to think of anything but the carnage in the square. There had been so many.
She'd come with Jelka, who'd lived in this village her whole life. Anya, who'd been an excellent aide and a friend. Jelka had come when her mother hadn't answered her phone. Neither had her aunt, her cousins. They'd driven into the square, and the bodies had been everywhere. Harper had known within minutes what had killed them. A nerve agent. Something bad, worse than anything she'd heard of in medical school or the special training she'd received from the peacekeeping force. The men, women and children had died horribly.
She looked at the boy. It didn't matter that her hands were dirty. He was dead. Everything once alive in this town was dead. What she didn't understand was why. No government would sanction this kind of genocide.
No independent army she knew of had the technical capabilities. Who had murdered Jelka's family? Who had brought this nightmare into the world?
Harper woke with a gasp, and for a moment she was back there, in her tiny apartment with its uncomfortable bed, cracked basin and inconsistent heat. But a few deep breaths and a sharp focus on the familiar comforter brought her home to her own bed in her little corner of East Los Angeles. The shaking would take a little longer.
The nightmares had started months ago and were as much a part of her life as being a doctor at the free clinic. She hated them, hated that she woke up sweating and trembling. There'd been a time, as hard as it was to believe, when she'd gotten sweaty from a hot man in her bed. Now the only man in her life was a wounded soldier living in her basement, cursing her with every other breath. That is, when he wasn't trying to hide his hard-on for her.
Nate, Seth—they all told her the nightmares would end, that she'd have her life back once again, but she didn't believe it. It was all FUBAR—fucked up beyond all reason. Every part of it. Especially the man living in her basement. Seth was a decent guy and she liked him well enough, she just had no desire to be his den mother.
Okay, so he'd gotten a bum break, but he was alive, wasn't he? She knew he resented her doing the amputation, but that wasn't unusual. No matter the circumstances, traumas as severe as amputation required long periods of adjustment. He'd grow accustomed to his limitations and his prosthesis. The sooner, the better, because as he was now he was pretty damn useless.
She'd already decided that gainful employment for Seth was just the ticket. They could always use the money, but more than that, he needed to see that he was still productive. Maybe he couldn't be soldier of the year, but there was no way he was going back to that life anyway.
Even if by some miracle they could prove their innocence, how would Seth or Nate or any of them believe in the Army ever again? She knew her country wasn't evil, that it was a small faction of men who believed they were above the law that had caused all the havoc, but her whole world view had been altered irrevocably. That Senator Jackson Raines could publicly call these men, these heroes, traitors to their country...
She shut off that line of thought as she climbed out of bed. There was no use thinking about the mess of a situation. They—Nate, Seth, Boone and Cade, all Delta Force soldiers, along with herself and Kate, the UN accountant who had discovered the dark secret that a Black Ops group from the U.S. had developed a chemical weapon so deadly there was no antidote. They'd escaped with their lives but little else. Bottom line—she couldn't do anything about it, and it was useless to try.
She was a doctor, not a soldier. If she could have completely disassociated herself from the whole matter, she would have. All she wanted was to do her job. To keep the clinic going and lose herself in work. She didn't want to babysit Seth, she didn't want to have to hide, she didn't want to live in this house or have a trauma room in her basement.
Nothing had been right since that one day. Since she'd stood witness to the slaughter of an entire town. Of course she dreamed of it night after night. That day, she'd walked into hell.
Her bathroom floor was cold on her bare feet, but one of the great things about this old house was the water pressure. She turned on the shower, hung her robe and nightshirt on the hook on the back of the door and eased herself under the spray. She thought of nothing but the heat and comfort for several long minutes, then got down to the business of washing.
The more she thought about bringing Seth to work in the clinic, the more she liked the idea. It would get him out of the house, give him a practical way to get used to his prosthetic. And it would be a safe place. The kind of people who came to the clinic weren't likely to connect Seth, especially the way he looked now, to the Wanted posters. She'd encouraged him to do more than grow his hair, but he couldn't stand the mustache or beard. Maybe they could dye his hair, although it would be a shame to change those coppery highlights. Harper smiled, thinking of Seth's reaction if she should dare say such a thing. He wasn't exactly open to his feminine side, was he?
She finished washing her hair, then spread some shave gel on her right leg. She was pasty white, which she'd never been, even as a kid, but she didn't spend much time outdoors anymore. The hiking she loved was a thing of the past, work keeping her a virtual prisoner. It was probably foolish to ignore other aspects of her life, and if it wasn't quite so chilly out, she'd drive herself up to Angeles National Forest and get lost in the trees. Unfortunately this January was exceptionally cold and wet, and she wanted to hike for pleasure, not punishment.
After finishing her left leg, she rinsed off all the soap, shampoo and gel, wishing she didn't have to go down to the basement at all. Wishing she didn't know that Seth was still so angry. Wishing...
Wishing she had a man in her home who wanted her. Wanted to be there. She was lonely. Not because she had no real friends. That was nothing new. She didn't trust a lot of people, not in that intimate way she saw all around her. That had never been her style. But she wasn't one to deny herself when it came to men. She liked them, had always liked them. Not for keeps, of course, but for a month or two. If the chemistry was there, why not?
The chemistry hadn't even been alive in her since that day in Serbia. She didn't even want to think about how long she'd been without. She'd considered Seth, naturally, but he was so...so pissed. At her. Some women might get off on that whole macho anger thing, but not her. Not yet. But if something didn't change, she wasn't guaranteeing a thing.
She grabbed the towel off the rack, and fifteen minutes later she was in jeans and a sweater, her sneakers tied, her hair as neat as it ever got. No makeup, not for work.
Downstairs, the coffeepot had done its job, and she filled two mugs. Black for Seth and light for her. Then she headed down to the basement of doom.